11 October 2010

Common Question

Today the bright blue October sky sinks into a pile of pink and gold clouds at dusk.  There's a ghostly slip of a crescent moon already dangling just above that same western horizon, so early, so soon.  As my dog Macy and I stroll about in this beautiful evening light sifting down through the maples out back (more orange leaves than green now), I recall a favorite May Swenson poem,  "Question".   In it Swenson considers what existence might be like without a body, asking, at the poem's conclusion

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

Most will read the poem as a little meditation on death (oh great...I know, I know...another autumnal mediation on death...), but I think it's also concerned with notions of attachment and non-attachment. How funny to think of a modest little soul trying to cover itself up with a bit of cirrus cloud!  Of course we know that there is no hiding from this final transformation out of the body, but I am quite amused by the prospect of that pale naked soul still figuring out what it means to be free of the body's boundary! The poet imagines that soul wondering how to exist without the protection of an earthly shell (a house, a body), and feeling itself merge into all creation ("wind for an eye"). There's no explicit suggestion here that a soul transformed by death joins some larger divinity.  Without the body, asks Swenson, what really becomes of us? Do we just melt into the sky?

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna offers Arjuna an answer:

Whoever knows, profoundly,
my divine presence on earth
is not reborn when he leaves
the body, but comes to me.

Released from greed, fear, anger,
absorbed in me and made pure
by the practice of wisdom, many
have attained my own state of being.

So, I guess, no matter what, when faced with that ultimate transformation of our earthly energy into something else, we needn't worry about what to wear.